Friday, 8 July 2011

The Consett Stanley Thing

If you get into local politics you find out things you knew but didn't realise you knew. An example is the Consett and Stanley 'thing'; Consett and Stanley are two towns in the Northeast of England in the North West corner of County Durham. If you are reading this and you are not local then they are inland, to the west of Sunderland and Newcastle.

The Consett/Stanley 'thing' is a perceived, mild type of hostility between the people of the two towns. Hostility is perhaps too strong a word, mistrust and envy are also words that are also too severe to describe something that may or may not exist. The problem this 'thing' creates one that affects the communities not directly but because it is perceived by local decision makers; councillors, officials and community leaders. It is their perception of the 'thing' that can cloud the decision making process. For example
   "You can't do that because of the Consett/Stanley thing" "The Constituency boundaries can't be there because of the Consett/Stanley thing." "We cant have a sports complex there because of the the Consett/Stanley thing" and possibly the biggest barrier to progress "YOU cant have one of those in Stanley/Consett because WE haven't got one in  Consett/Stanley"

The 'thing' goes back generations and comes out of geographical differences. People from old pit villages near Stanley like Anfield Plain and Dipton will go to Stanley when they need something. People from Delves Lane and Blackhill will go to Consett, there is the small lump of geography called Pontop Pike between the towns - not a mountain - but takes some effort to walk over, when walking was a more common form of transport. There are historical differences like the respective main employers. In Consett there was the Steelworks, Stanley was mining hub surrounded by pits. Both employers paid an honest day's wage for an honest day's work but the mines started to close before the steelworks shut down so for a period of time Consett was more prosperous than Stanley. 

Local government reform may also have contributed to the 'thing'. In 1974 Consett Urban District Council and Stanley Urban District Council were abolished. Derwentside was born, named after the river Derwent which divides County Durham from Northumberland, meanders through majestic countryside, and holds wild brown trout (with brains no bigger than a walnut; although they seem clever enough to evade the fly on the end of my fishing line). The decision was made to build the new council offices in Consett. This may have made people from Stanley feel like they had no voice, a compromise may have been to have two chambers one in each town but that would have caused its own set of problems. The tables have now turned, in 2009 Derwentside District Council was abolished in favour of a unitary authority, Stanley has its own Town Council and Consett is governed from Durham City.

This 'thing' is no more than that; something that affects decisions. If we leave aside the movers, shakers and decision makers and consider instead the population of the two towns then the 'thing' might cease to exist. If people from both towns got together for a pint they might have more in common than expected:  There is so much common ground. Consett and Stanley: Two predominantly working class towns, where old industry is etched in to the fabric of communities, where people are proud of where they come from and have traditional values. Neighbourhood communities are still strong as are family ties. This sense of local pride, identity and affiliation can be seen even in small villages, and can be misconstrued as tribalism. I feel a sense of solidarity with all people of the region never-mind one single town, football differences notwithstanding!

I was trying to explain the 'thing' to my wife who is from outside the region (when she first met my Gran she was called a foreigner) In my explanation I referred to Consett as 'up here' and Stanley as 'down there'. She said "what are you on about? They're only 6 miles apart". Sums it up really.

Post Script: I cant see why Consett and Stanley aren’t in the same constituency. It seems that the Boundary commission do not agree with me. Under the proposed changes, Stanley is now part of Chester le Street. The old Crook/Consett Constituency of North West Durham is abolished in favour of an even less likely marriage between Consett and Barnard Castle.


Anonymous said...

maybe you should send this to the Journal, Chronicle and Northern Echo. It is just great and deserves to be read by the many not the few (to coin a NLabour saying)

Anonymous said...

In recent years the divide has been exacerbated by Kevan Jones who took regular pot shots at Derwentside Council (no doubt building on his fantastically successful experience of being chief whip at Newcastle City Council and escaping just before the idea-less, cowed Party was almost wiped out by a Lib Dem landslide). Alex Watson and the Derwentside councilors had vision - something we need more of unless we want to write towns in North West Durham off as a historical accident and demolish the lot.

David Lindsay said...

As someone who as Secretary of Derwentside District Labour Party for three years, I would like to echo that second comment very strongly indeed.

In general: writing about the Consett-Stanley thing? You're brave...

Unknown said...

I still cant see why Consett and Stanley are in separate constituencies, we will have to wait for the boundary commission to decide on that and then await the fate of Kevan Jones MP. Despite Labour being almost wiped out and the Libdems doing an passable job in Newcastle Labour still took back control in the last election. To use a sporting analogy: Form is temporary. Class is permanent.

Anonymous said...

It was wise of Stanley to have its town council albeit a product of Kevan Jones trying to throw his weight about. All funding comes from the EU and is earmarked anyway: it's already there to be claimed and used. It really is what Consett should do.